Chad Reviews "Bright Star"
Steve Martin was probably the first stand-up comic that I became a fan of during the ‘70s. Wildly unpredictable and an irreverent performer in his signature tailored white suits, whether with the arrow through his head, making references to “King Tut,” or using the phrase “Well excuuuuuuuse ME!” his outstanding work on the banjo was my focus due to the high level of expertise it takes to be as good as he is. In the last couple of decades, he has focused more and more on his musical side, earning a number of Grammy awards in the country/bluegrass category. From that, he worked with Dallas-based singer/songwriter Edie Brickell on “Love Has Come for You,” which led to the musical from this duo known as “Bright Star”. It seems kind of fitting that its Dallas stop would be right next to Booker T. Washington High School (where Brickell attended), at the Winspear Opera House through June 24th.
This is the story centered on two characters: Alice Murphy (Audrey Cardwell) and Billy Cane (Henry Gottfried), mostly told through the former. As Billy returns home from the war to his home town of Hayes Creek, North Carolina, he works with his childhood friend Margo Crawford (Liana Hunt) to try and achieve his dream of being a writer by taking a number of stories he has written to the Ashville Southern Journal. After arriving and being chastised by Lucy (Kaitlyn Davidson) and Daryl (Jeff Blumenkrantz), Billy comes face-to-face with their boss in Alice and convinces her to give him a shot to be published in her magazine. During this time, Alice reflects on the events of her childhood from a love affair with Jimmy Ray (Patrick Cummings), tough relationships with both her father (John Leslie Wolfe) and Jimmy Ray’s (Jeff Austin), who is also the mayor of their small town, secrets are revealed through memories and soul searching by all of the characters and their interactions.
Technically, this is a marvelous sight to behold, incorporating an imaginative stage design with a log cabin in the center that houses a remarkable bluegrass ensemble that kept my blood pumping throughout the performance. From a cast standpoint, the ladies here astound on every level, particularly Ms. Cardwell as she wrenches every drop of emotional power available, delivering a truly remarkable performance.
The downside for me is that it starts to fall apart in what becomes a fairly predictable and primarily bleak and gloomy story with hokey lyrics and lackluster performances by the majority of the male cast members. Mr. Gottfried does the best he can with what he has been given and Mr. Blumenkrantz does some much needed (albeit brief) comic relief in a mostly dark story, mostly devoid of the witty comic material that Martin is so famous for that builds to an overly sappy ending I saw coming a mile away.
To say I was surprised and mostly disappointed is an understatement, as I came into the theater knowing practically nothing about it, keeping any expectations at bay beyond the names behind it. I do hope that if Martin continues to work on stage writing, he brings something more familiar of his earlier work. Goodness knows that we as a people could use something more uplifting and lighthearted in this day and age because “Bright Star” left me feeling like I was being followed by a dark cloud.